For Immediate Release
ACLU And PUBPAT Argue Today That Patents On Breast Cancer Genes Are Unconstitutional And Invalid
First Hearing In Federal Court About The Patentability Of Human Genes
NEW YORK - In
the first hearing in federal court about the patentability of human
genes, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Public Patent
Foundation (PUBPAT), a not-for-profit organization affiliated with
Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, asked the court today to rule that
patents on two human genes associated with breast and ovarian cancer
are unconstitutional and invalid. The groups charge that the patents
stifle diagnostic testing and research that could lead to cures and
that they limit women's options regarding their medical care.
"Allowing patents on genetic
material imposes real and severe limits on scientific research,
learning and the free flow of information," said Chris Hansen, an
attorney with the ACLU.
The lawsuit, Association for Molecular Pathology, et al. v. U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, et al.,
was filed on May 12, 2009 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern
District of New York on behalf of breast cancer and women's health
groups, individual women and scientific associations representing
approximately 150,000 researchers, pathologists and laboratory
professionals. The lawsuit was filed against the U.S. Patent and
Trademark Office, as well as Myriad Genetics and the University of Utah
Research Foundation, which hold the patents on the genes, BRCA1 and
BRCA2. The lawsuit charges that patents on human genes violate the
First Amendment and patent law because genes are "products of nature"
and therefore can't be patented.
"Patenting human genes is like patenting e=mc2, blood or air," said Hansen.
"The patent system was designed to
reward and encourage human ingenuity. But genes are naturally-occurring
parts of our bodies, not inventions," said Daniel B. Ravicher,
Executive Director of PUBPAT and co-counsel in the lawsuit. "Patents on
human genes should never have been granted in the first place. Genes
are identified, not invented."
Mutations along the BRCA genes are
responsible for most cases of hereditary breast and ovarian cancers.
Many women with a history of breast and ovarian cancer in their
families opt to undergo genetic testing to determine if they have the
mutations on their BRCA genes that put them at increased risk for these
diseases. This information is critical in helping these women decide on
a plan of treatment or prevention, including increased surveillance or
preventive mastectomies or ovary removal.
The patents granted to Myriad give
the company the exclusive right to perform diagnostic tests on the
BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes and to prevent any researcher from even looking
at the genes without first getting permission from Myriad. Myriad's
monopoly on the BRCA genes makes it impossible for women to access
alternate tests or get a second opinion about their results and allows
Myriad to charge a high rate for their tests.
Because the ACLU's lawsuit
challenges the whole notion of gene patenting, its outcome could have
far reaching effects beyond the patents on the BRCA genes.
Approximately 20 percent of all human genes are patented, including
genes associated with Alzheimer's disease, muscular dystrophy, colon
cancer, asthma and many other illnesses.
"The patents on the BRCA genes
restrict women's access to genetic testing and interfere with their
medical care," said Sandra Park, staff attorney with the ACLU Women's
Rights Project. "We hope that at the conclusion of this lawsuit, the
court declares the patents unconstitutional and invalid."
Several major organizations,
including the American Medical Association, the March of Dimes and the
American Society for Human Genetics, filed friend-of-the-court briefs
in support of the ACLU and PUBPAT's case. Prominent medical researchers
and academics, including Nobel Prize winners Joseph Stiglitz and Sir
John Sulston, have also stated their support.
Today's argument is on the ACLU's
motion for summary judgment, asking the court to rule in favor of the
ACLU's clients without a trial, and on the defendants' cross motions.
Attorneys on the case include Hansen
and Aden Fine of the ACLU First Amendment Working Group; Park and
Lenora Lapidus of the ACLU Women's Rights Project; and Ravicher and
Sabrina Hassan of PUBPAT. Tania Simoncelli, the ACLU's science advisor,
provides expert guidance on the case.
More information about the case,
including an ACLU video featuring breast cancer patients, legal
documents and plaintiff and supporter statements and declarations can
be found online at: www.aclu.org/brca
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.